Cowboy Bebop’s Hunt for a Visual Style Is a Pain in the Neck

Home Technology Cowboy Bebop’s Hunt for a Visual Style Is a Pain in the Neck
Cowboy Bebop’s Hunt for a Visual Style Is a Pain in the Neck
John Cho and Mustafa Shakir's Spike and Jet look concerned at something aboard the Bebop.
Everything in Bebop’s world is a little crooked, ethically and… well, y’know. With that camera.
Screenshot: Netflix

There’s a lot that feels off about the live-action Cowboy Bebop, a show dancing to a rhythm that’s close to, but not quite, the smooth one shared by its seminal animated inspiration. But one of the strangest moments of bad rhythm is one that might take you a little while to notice at first: what on earth is its obsession with Dutch angles?

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Like the Dutch angles in the original Thor, the realization of Bebop’s preponderance for the canted camera angle—sometimes subtle, sometimes harsh, and yet present in what can feel like every other cut of the camera in the Netflix series—can come as something of a slow burn, but once you realize that you’ve been watching John Cho, Mustafa Shakir, and Daniella Pineda at increasing amounts of angles for a couple of hours, you cannot escape noticing it every time it happens again. And it happens again a lot. Our lens into the series’ imagination of Shinichiro Watanabe’s iconic anime is more often than not viewed in these oblique angles. The camera pivots through quiet moments, close-ups and panning shots, moments of action and moments of establishing, perpetually titling our perspective.

Image for article titled Cowboy Bebop's Hunt for a Visual Style Is a Pain in the Neck
Screenshot: Netflix

This isn’t necessarily always a bad thing. Used effectively, the Dutch angle can evoke senses of unease and discomfort, of an alien surreality that can evoke tension as much as it can abstract reality. But Bebop’s fascination with the technique means that everything from the menacing ranting of Alex Hassell’s Vicious to something as simple as an establishing shot of the jazz act at Ana’s bar is treated with this same method, ironically flattening the cinematography of the show so that one jaunty angle blurs into the other. Instead of evoking a sense of cinematic energy (perhaps to make up for a lack of it elsewhere in Bebop’s humdrum vibe), one Dutch angle after another, and another, and another just becomes visually confusing at first, and perhaps maddening after you can’t stop noticing it.

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